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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Nov 1984

Vol. 353 No. 9

Adjournment Debate. - Greencastle (Donegal) Harbour.

I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this important issue and I thank the Minister for being present in the House. I hope I will hear good news for this important development to Greencastle harbour. Greencastle is the major white fish port in the Republic. The value of fish landed in 1983 amounted to £4.1 million. There was a total catch of 8,000 tonnes of white fish. Apart from some dredging no significant improvement has taken place during the last ten years. Nothing has happened to the port since 1965 other than dredging. The immediate prospect is that because of dangerously inadequate facilities in the port the Greencastle fishery will be located in Derry. This must be borne in mind by the Minister.

There has been a rapid expansion of the fishing fleet based in Greencastle particularly in the last three years following the revitalisation of the Greencastle fisherman's co-op. In 1983 there were 42 trawlers. In addition 87 small fishing boats of 26 feet to 30 feet operate in and about the port. The trawlers employ 210 fishermen at sea with a labour force of ten men on shore directly concerned with fish landing and dispatch. To date fish processing has been minimal. There are 56 males employed at this on a part time basis.

There are a number of proposals for new ventures and expansions either approved or being processed by the IDA which would give full time male employment. Given the nature of fishing the prospects for employment would be that for every man employed on fishing five could be employed on shore in fish processing. This is something that should be considered in relation to the development of this port. Unemployment is chronic in the area. The IDA would welcome the development of the port as they would then be able to promote the area for fish processing. This point should rate highly in the Minister's approach to the project.

Due to overcrowding and lack of berthing part of the fishing fleet has to seek safe refuge from time to time in Derry from southerly gales. Until the harbour is improved there is safe berthage for only 20 boats. Pier facilities are inadequate for the discharge of fish cargoes. They allow for the discharge of one boat at a time. When more than 20 boats are seeking discharge the position is chaotic. Apart from the waste of time, labour, loss of temper and market delays, there is a safety factor. The anchorage facilities are dangerous for the men and the boats. The position is not improved by the fact that trawlers of 65 feet and over can only come in at high tide. The harbour cannot benefit from the discharge of fish or other cargoes from foreign boats. This is regrettable. The Killybegs boats and trawlers trawling mackerel off the north Donegal coast have to steam up the Foyle to Derry to discharge their fish, a distance of over 20 miles. If the present position is allowed to continue the establishment of landing and processing facilities in Derry could become a reality and lead to the relocation of the Greencastle and Inishowen fishing industry in Derry.

The Inishowen peninsula comprises approximately one-fifth of the land area of County Donegal. It has one-fifth of the population and slightly more than one-fifth of total agricultural production, yet it only has one-sixth of the county's industrial jobs. The lack of industrial employment is creating many problems in the peninsula. Unemployment stood at 2,237 in January 1984 out of an estimated labour force of 8,500, representing 26.3 per cent. Most of the 1,200 jobs in manufacturing are in the clothing and textile area which is more orientated to female employment rather than male. The IDA find it difficult to attract foreign industry to Inishowen. Factories in Carndonagh, Moville and Buncrana have been lying unoccupied for a number of years. If the Government believe in their document Building on Reality the development of this port should be sanctioned. It would relieve the chronic unemployment in the area and give an incentive to people to set up a fish processing industry. The IDA could promote the area. It would give a kiss of life to an area which is virtually dead as far as employment is concerned.

I raised the development of this harbour on 15 February 1984 and the Minister then agreed about the importance of the development and gave the impression that work would commence in 1984. During the European elections last year the Minister and the Fine Gael candidate, Mr. Joey Murrin who is now chairman of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, were canvassing in the area. They gave an undertaking that work would start this year. I should like the Minister to honour that commitment and ensure that work will start before the end of this year. If it is not undertaken soon the fishermen who are presently working under great stress, strain and danger will have to go into other areas to make it economic for them to remain as fishermen.

The Greencastle area is one of the best white fish ports. The white fish industry is totally underdeveloped. It is ridiculous to keep talking about our natural resources not being developed. This is an opportunity for the Minister to give the go-ahead to a development which has been talked about for the last 20 years. It would give an incentive to those involved in the fishing industry to continue and expand. It would create employment and give an area which is denuded of any worthwhile employment a chance to develop. It would give those who are suffering from unemployment a chance to have a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.

I wish to support Deputy Conaghan in raising the matter of Greencastle harbour. This matter was raised on 15 February last year. We were given a definite commitment that night by the Minister. The Minister stated, at column 2762 of the Official Report, that he would do everything possible to facilitate improvements in Greencastle. He said he would hope to be able to commence work in 1984. When the Department of Fisheries and Forestry were contacted on 25 October regarding Greencastle harbour they said that that work was a priority and would be included in the harbour improvements programme for next year. This debate could be short if the Minister would commit himself to what he promised last year and followed through on his Department's statement on 25 October when they were approached by a local newspaper.

Donegal is largely dependent on fish and the development of fisheries but the Government do not seem to take that very seriously. The amount of money made available to Donegal last year was practically nil as far as harbour development was concerned.

What about Killybegs?

If the development of Killybegs had not been commenced by a Fianna Fáil Government we would be waiting a long time for the Coalition to provide any money for it. The Minister and the Government had no option but to continue the work and the Minister is very petty to take credit for it. Harbour development in Donegal is essential. We have a number of major harbours and Killybegs is being developed. However, Burtonport and Greencastle also need major development. Donegal is a county where the unemployment rate is twice the national average, and, unfortunately emigration has started again. Jobs must be created in the area of fisheries and forestry to stem that trend. There would be tremendous job opportunities if there was greater investment by the Government. When they are considering the Estimates for next year, the Minister should allocate the small amount of money which is required for the dredging of Burtonport harbour and its development.

I should like to remind the Minister that some years ago Donegal County Council agreed to commit themselves to a 25 per cent grant. That commitment is still there but, since then, there have been four or five revised estimates. However, if the Minister makes the money available, Donegal County Council will reciprocate by giving a £1 for every £3 granted by the Department. Greencastle harbour is unique in that it has deep water except for the fact that dredging has not taken place. In the sixties there were only 16 boats there, now there are in excess of 40 boats but there have been no additional improvements or developments to the harbour. It is unfortunate that all our large mackerel boats are now landing into luggers off the coast of Scotland. If those boats had landing facilities off the northwest coast of Donegal then they could deposit their fish in Donegal, thus creating further part time and full time job opportunities there. Because we do not have these facilities, they have to use the port of Derry and the development authority there are doing their utmost to entice industrialists who are involved in the fish business into that part of Northern Ireland. They have their deep water ports and, if we are to compete with them, we must make the facilities available, particularly around Greencastle, where it is just as convenient for the boats coming down the Foyle to land on the west side. If the Minister does not commit himself to harbour development, the number of boats landing in Greencastle will be reduced month by month.

Greencastle is traditionally known as a white fish port and is noted for its excellent quality which is second to none. The reason it is a white fish port is because the larger boats which traditionally fish herring and mackerel cannot land their catches there. We must ensure that the fish processors in that area can diversify from white fish and process mackerel and herring also. They cannot do this until such time as the facility is provided.

The development is in the region of £4 million and if one looks at this investment against the job potential there, the necessary money should be provided as the amount is not very great. The Greencastle fishing enterprise is valuable to the economy in many ways. One important, attractive aspect is that it is soundly and sensibly based on a plentiful natural source based on an economic and efficient catching strategy. A report from a certain body commended the Greencastle approach and said that the best long term, stable enterprise is the 50 to 60 foot trawler operating out of Greencastle or Killybegs. We cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket and stick rigidly to this size boat. We must ensure that our fishermen are enticed to invest in the larger boat which can be grant-aided by FEOGA.

When referring to harbour development in Donegal and to Greencastle in particular I should like the Minister and his Department to ensure that the larger boats would be grant-aided by FEOGA. It is unfortunate that there is so much red tape and that the 33 metre boats and under are the only boats which can be grant-aided. This makes very little sense and I hope the Minister will pursue this matter.

I should also like to refer to the election promises of the Government. In the past, Fine Gael Ministers have been seen as whiter than white and they do not get involved in any bargaining for votes. However, I should like to quote from the Derry Journal of 26 October 1984 which said:

In June this year the Minister for Forestry and Fisheries accompanied the Fine Gael Euro candidate Joey Murrin, when he was canvassing in this area and gave an undertaking that work would start later this year, we have now been told unofficially that it has been postponed again.

I have great respect for the Minister, I hope he will not let himself down, that he will fulfil his promise and start the work before the end of this year.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak about Greencastle harbour development. Deputy Gallagher and Deputy Conaghan mentioned the promises I made when I visited Greencastle last June at election time. I stand over the promises I made. I am not too sure whether Deputy Gallagher quoted from the Derry Journal or the Derry Democrat but it is wrong. There were at least 40 people in the room, many of whom were not of my political persuasion, I am sure that they were of the Deputy's persuasion.

There are a few people over there with sense.

I should imagine so. They accepted from me the fact that I hoped that the technical and planning details would have been completed by the end of this year and that the work would commence, hopefully, early in 1985. That is what I said and I am afraid that whoever wrote the report of the meeting included the so-called quotation from me in error. That is what I said at the time.

But the Minister told us here that it was to start in 1984. Whom are we to believe?

Believe me, or believe me not.

We believed the Minister the last time.

Deputy Conaghan said that this had been talked about for 20 years. I shall not go into who was in power for most of that time, but I can tell the Deputy that the talking is almost ended in so far as I am concerned. We shall stop talking and put something there on that pier that the Deputy and I, the Greencastle fishermen and the country will be proud of.

The Greencastle development is badly needed. I have visited the area and have seen the terrible congestion there. Fishermen have told me that they have to queue for five or six hours at anchor in the bay at busy times, to find berthage to pull in and unload their catches. Fishing is tough enough without having to spend that time waiting to unload a catch. These people are trying to carry fish across five or six boats to land their catches. I am aware of all the problems, but they have existed for a long time. Let us be honest and not throw stones if we live in glass houses. The matter is now being rectified and I am saying now that work on the provision of that facility will commence early next year.

Let me give the reason for this work not having commenced at the date I mentioned last February. Later, in June, I said that it would not commence until 1985. The plans were drawn up on the basis of dredging to a depth of ten feet. A meeting of local interests in the Greencastle area was held and it was felt that depth might not be sufficient for the future and that it might be necessary to dredge to 15 feet depth at low water mark. It then transpired, during the months when this proposal was being considered, that I would be back here in the House next year and possibly the year after with Deputy Conaghan breathing down my neck and rightly so, because that plan would involve the reconstruction of a model and all the attendant technical matters involved in relation to the building of a model for dredging at that depth. What I have now decided is to dredge to 12 feet, which will cater for more than 90 per cent of the boats now operating from that harbour. There are some minor technical matters to be dealt with, but that work can go ahead. I understand that retendering must be done and the work will then commence.

The construction of a pier at Queen-scourt which is across from the main port will provide 200 feet of berthage and a water depth of up to seven feet at mean low water of spring tide. That facility will cater for the smaller boats which are cluttering up the main quay at the moment. There will be an extension of the existing pier to provide 400 extra feet of berthage at a depth of 12 feet along the extended portion of the harbour at mean low water of spring tide. There will be a deepening of 400 linear feet of the existing berthage to nine feet from the present depth of seven feet at mean low water of spring tide.

There is also being provided 8,000 square feet of additional reclaimed area to provide working space for the fishermen. Deputies will recall that there was a much more ambitious initial proposal. As far as I recall, it was for 28,000 square feet of open space to be developed. When this was discussed by officials with the fishermen involved, their attitude was that they did not want a football pitch there, they wanted a reasonable surface that they could work on which gave them plenty of room for their purposes. For that reason it was agreed with them that the 8,000 square feet of additional space would be sufficient to meet their needs.

These improvements have been scaled down, with a commensurate reduction, I presume, in the overall cost of the scheme. The cost at present for the current proposals is in the region of £3.1 million. I agree with the necessity for this expenditure. It is necessary for the further development of the fishery in that area. As has been said by both Deputies opposite, unless we provide the facilities there, because of its proximity to Derry, Derry will become the landing place for the catches from the fishery in the Greencastle locality. That would be at the expense of the Greencastle area. It is a big industry. As Deputy Conaghan said, over 200 people are employed at sea. What we need is to develop the onshore processing and to do that we must provide space and landing facilities for the fishermen. The Government are totally committed to the development of that harbour.

I can assure Deputy Conaghan that this is the last time that it will be necessary for him or for Deputy Harte, who is on my doorstep every day about the same issue, to approach me on this matter. I will be informing both Deputies when the Estimates are completed. The specification has already been prepared. There will be no great problem in having retendering. We have all the documentation at our fingertips and there will be no extra work involved. It is a question of getting our costings right and the tenders in. The work, hopefully, will then commence.

Even if a contractor were appointed tomorrow morning, because of the fishing season and weather conditions he probably would not start until next March. Deputy Gallagher is aware of the conditions that obtain there and of the Christmas fishing season. I hope to be in a position to give the Deputies definitive dates in the very near future.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 November 1984.